another lost opportunity
Time to take a break from the Levant to return to my least favorite topic … the ongoing drive to inject racial essentialism into everything the US military does.
Regardless of the clear historical lessons about what official sectarianism does, we find ourselves here again. People who should know better ignore the moral, ethical, and legal issues along with with the corrosive impact on good order and discipline that results from special considerations, rewards, and punishments to service members based on immutable characteristics such as race, creed, color, or national origin continue to encourage a significant cadre of people who are advocating exactly for that.
Some are well meaning but frustrated individuals who cannot objectively look at why their desires are not playing out exactly how they want them to. Others represent a large number of otherwise unemployable advocates who make their monetary living and justify their existence by keeping divisions sharp, sectarianism growing, and projecting their own grievances on the young to perpetuate their business model.
Regardless of what else is going on in the world, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) (did the initial add-ons stick, so hard to keep track, is it DEIA now?) commissariat and their nomenklatura embedded in our national security apparatus have not lost focus on their mission; keeping racial essentialism and its job security driven conflict at the very front. Some in Congress are pushing back - but not enough.
Over at WaPo, Hope Hodge Seck (she’s a good egg BTW, but she has a job to do), summarized in her latest article, Behind closed doors, Marines struggle with a glaring diversity problem, the results of the latest efforts to understand why, in this specific case, USMC TACAIR does not “look like America.”
Gary Graham Jr., a film producer whose father flew fighter jets in the Marine Corps, has researched the imbalance and concluded that the service’s leaders underestimate what’s required for African Americans to overcome certain obstacles that can stymie the prospects of otherwise qualified individuals. He points to previous flying experience, which is expensive. Graham also faults a recruiting system that he said has done a lackluster job engaging the Black community specifically.
“So those opportunities,” he said, “aren’t known to folks who would even consider it, and who would be skillful or educated enough.”
What a lost opportunity. I guess we’ll have to plow this field again. Do read it all, but in it you will see otherwise smart, accomplished professionals address a hard problems with some strange combination of willful blindness, opportunistic ignorance and blinkered concern on an issue that deserves a much more grounded discussion.
In areas such as the racial make up (sadly just focused on one of many racial groups in our republic) of the thin-margin-of-error TACAIR pilots - one would hope for more reason based review of reality, and less emotional aspiration…but here we are.
It is always helpful to remember here that in 2023, we are talking about bringing in young men and women born between 2001 and 2005. These are all 21st Century adults. It is not 1973 forever.
So, who is leading this effort?
David Berger, who retired in July as the Marines’ top general, commissioned during his tenure as commandant an independent study that yielded a road map for the service to start closing the gap. But two years later, the study’s most transformative recommendations remain unimplemented as leaders opt instead to remain on a course that emphasizes a broad concept of diversity rather than targeting shortfalls in individual demographics or career fields.
To lead the effort, Berger tapped Charles Bolden Jr., a former NASA administrator and the second Black Marine aviator ever promoted to general officer, and Bolden’s son Ché, who spent 26 years in the Marine Corps. In an interview, Charles Bolden said he accepted the assignment “somewhat leery,” having grown disillusioned with what he characterized as the Pentagon’s vague efforts to promote military diversity.
“I came out depressed,” he said. “Because I personally had no idea we had gone as backwards as we have gone.” He and his son remain doubtful that Marine Corps leaders will expend the resources and effort required to achieve the change they prescribe.
Has the USA become more racist since 1973? Are there fewer or more real, measurable barriers against or opportunities for African Americans? What about other racial and ethnic minorities? Are black Americans the only ones who don’t exactly “look like America” in USMC TACAIR? What about our gloriously growing mixed race population? Do the descendants of former slaves count the same as the children of recent Nigerian immigrants?
The Boldens’ study, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, has not been made public. It concludes that the Marine Corps cannot overcome generations of discrimination and mistrust merely by having removed barriers to participation in top-tier jobs such as fighter pilot. Rather, the Boldens assert, the service must establish new pathways to reach and recruit African Americans and entrust the role of “chief diversity officer” to the commandant himself rather than delegate that responsibility to a leader with less visibility and influence as it does now.
“We made a very clear statement upfront that, hey, the Black jet pilot community is an avatar for the Marine Corps,” Ché Bolden said.
OK, we need to take an operational pause. Charles Bolden Jr. and his son Ché are not just a father-son retired officer team. They are not a neutral party.
People are policy, and General Berger screwed up. This is not an objective report - but it will be sold as such.
They father-son team are principals in the Charles F. Bolden Group whose,
…efforts are rooted in the Public Benefit. We create partnerships to advance diversity, equity, inclusivity, and sustainability to maximize their impact.
So, DEIS not DEI or DEIA? So confusing.
Anyway, we all have a job to do and bills to pay - I shall never begrudge a man an honest paycheck - but Hope should have included this fact in her article. This is germane. It is like hiring the CEO of Exxon-Mobile to explain the difficulty in expanding the use of electric cars in rural America.
Anyway, back to the study by the Bolden Group.
In the above quote, what they desire is not equal opportunity, but equal outcomes - AKA “equity.”
In the zero sum game that is accessions, selection, and promotion - the only way to force-mode an outcome that “looks like America” is to take from one group and give to another based on immutable characteristics.
If you are using objective criteria based on probability of success - which are well known and have thin margins of error in especially unforgiving naval aviation environment - to select for any reason but objective criteria for success doesn’t just produce a lower performing cohort at the beginning - it gets people killed.
This whole article and report seems to exist in a world where between the ages of 18-24 - where officer programs get most of their people - all people show up at the entrance of the career pipeline identical criteria for success.
Let’s look at some broad, but not exclusive, primary objective criteria for entrance to an officer program - and remember to be selected for flight school the bar is even higher.
What about having a college degree? Having no criminal record? Having high academic performance with an emphasis on STEM education?
Is there a difference between broad ethic and racial classifications before people can even be considered for an officer program?
Let’s look at the numbers.
The share of Americans with a college degree rose from 38 percent in 2009 to nearly 46 percent in 2021 – an increase of eight percentage points.
Every race and ethnicity saw gains. The eight-percentage point gain was the same for both Black and white adults.
But racial gaps continue. In 2021, there remained an enormous 40 percentage point difference between Asian American adults, among whom 66 percent have a college degree, and Native American adults, among whom only 25 percent have a college degree. Among Black adults, 34 percent have college degrees. Among Hispanic adults, it’s 28 percent and among white adults, it’s 50 percent.
The detailed numbers from the National Center for Educational Statistics clearly outlined that coming in the door - especially for black males (men being more predisposed to fly TACAIR, so that is important) are starkly different.
Of note, the young adult population my race/ethnicity in 2022.
White (non Hispanic): 52%
Black (non Hispanic): 14%
Asian (non Hispanic): 6%
More then two races: 3%
Native American/Pacific Islander: 2%
You can find slightly different numbers, especially when you distribute the Nixonian “Hispanic” group into the other categories. It is also clear that the “Two or more races” should be a lot more than that if we were honest with each other - but we have what we have.
So, at our first objective criteria - having a college degree - we already see that “looks like America” is almost impossible.
We know the military has a bias towards STEM majors - again a well researched objective criteria for success. For those who make it through the college degree gate, how do the STEM numbers look?
Your pool just shrinks further. Are our universities somehow discriminatory or unattractive to those of sub-Saharan extraction?
Not if immigration data is correct.
No. Systemic racism is not it.
One of the quickest ways to not even have a chance for an officer program is to have a criminal record. As per the FBI, the data from 2019 does not “look like America” either.
That narrows the pool even further.
We have not even discussed the fact that people have agency. You cannot force people to invest their time, youth, education and effort in one area or another. Does the medical profession “look like America?” Do Spelling Bee champions “look like America?” Does the NBA or NFL “look like America?” Does the Trial Bar “look like America?” Do the ranks of the DEI nomenklatura “look like America?”
No, none of them do. Almost nothing does … and unless there are artificial barriers to people, that should be okay. Let people have freedom of choice.
There are people who are frustrated that this group or that are not represented as much as they wish - or are over-represented. Some are well meaning, some are not.
In this specific case with African-Americans’ representation in the officer corps, as there have not been official barriers to entry for decades, efforts should focus on what is keeping the pool of applicants so narrow.
Improve education for all Americans. Support programs that improve social cohesion and isolate temptations towards crime.
Giving up on the hard work and instead trying to shame the nation into doing something as cancerous and evil as giving special consideration - or special punishment - to young people based on immutable characteristics they can do nothing about - no, that is not the way towards a more just nation, much less a more effective military.
Charles and Ché Bolden suggested that, until the message comes from the Marines’ most senior leaders that Black fighter pilots are needed in the ranks, efforts to reach candidates will ring hollow. They called in their study for assigning the responsibilities of chief diversity officer to the commandant, a recommendation that has gone unheeded. Such a step, they added, would permit Marines in the ranks to pursue more radical solutions for building diversity, rather than relying on established approaches.
The first part of that paragraph is edging close to bearing false witness against every Commandant I’ve been aware of since I started being associated with the US military in 1984. I remember the exceptional efforts made to keep the one African American Marine Option Midshipman in my NROTC class, though he sadly dropped out of NROTC and college. No, that is not fair to the USMC. Most who have served have similar stories.
Worse than that, I would really like the Boldens to flesh out what they propose to “pursue more radical solutions” - though they hint at them in their report.
I’m not sure if their report is more insulting to patronizing.
The US military is not racist - it is not “lily white.”
America is not a racist country - it is a more perfect land of opportunity.
Our nation has done so much during my lifetime to become a more fair, just nation striving closer to the ideals of our founding - yet we continue to downplay the hard work of generations.
I tire of those who want to tell people otherwise and make money off it.